Planting strawberries might be the easiest chore in the garden. Those plants are so hardy I doubt you’ll manage to kill them even if your thumbs aren’t so green!
In fact, if you are not careful, some strawberry plants might take over your entire garden!
Growing fruit on the homestead can be a tricky business. Most of the fruit plants you’ll plant, whether it’s a tree or a vine or a bush, will take a few years to produce a suitable harvest.
Sometimes you are not even sure if you’ll stay at that specific homestead for a few years. When we lived in the city, I didn’t even bother planting fruit trees because it was clear to me that that house was not our forever place. I kept thinking why bother, by the time the trees start to produce, we will probably be gone…
If this is your situation, or if you just aren’t too strong in the patience department (like me…), there are a few things you can do.
First, you can plant dwarf fruit trees in containers so that the trees can move with you. Those trees are fast to produce and have about seven hundred other benefits. You can read all about them at a guest post I wrote a few months ago at The Prairie Homestead here.
Second, you can grow annual fruit like watermelon, cantaloupes, or ground cherries. Those are great options that everyone loves.
Or you can plant strawberries.
Strawberries are in between… They grow fast, you can have fruit in the first season although you’ll benefit from not letting them produce fruit so fast, we will talk about this later, you can plant them in a container or hanging baskets, so they can go with you wherever you might end up moving, or you can plant them in the ground and dig out some of the plants or direct the runners to root in a pot that you can take with you (I’ll show you haw to do this later).
And who doesn’t like fresh, garden strawberries? Think 17 times better than what you get in the store. Think sweet, deep red, juicy, melts in your mouth… Think strawberry shortcake, thinks homemade strawberry jam… Are you drooling yet?
I know I convinced you. Now let’s get practical…
How Strawberries Grow…
Strawberries are perennial plants. Each year, they will die back in the winter and start growing again in the spring when the soil warms up. Depending on the verity of berries you choose, and with good care, you can expect a strawberry plant to produce anywhere from 3 to 5 years.
After the plant is established and bearing fruit, it will start sending runners with little, tiny plants at the tip. Those runners will root themselves nearby the mother plan but will stay attached to it.
Your plants will produce better if you make sure not to let more than three runners root. We will talk more about this later.
3 Kinds of Strawberry Verities…
June – Bearing Strawberries – the most popular strawberry kind. Most June-bearing verities will bear fruit around the month of June (or a little earlier in the deep South). They will produce the largest strawberries but only during a period of two weeks to a month.
Within the June-bearing verities, plants are classified into Early Season, Mid Season, and Late Season. This allows us to extend the harvest a little bit by choosing a few plants from each category.
Everbearing Strawberries – these plants are not really everbearing but they will produce two or sometimes three harvests during the year. The first harvest will be in late spring, then they will most likely take a break during the heat of summer, then will produce another harvest in the fall.
The strawberries might be a bit smaller than the June -Bearing strawberries and the plants will produce fewer runners since most of its energy is geared towards producing fruit.
Everbearing strawberries are a good choice for a garden with very limited space.
Day – Neutral Strawberries – those strawberries are a modern cultivar of the everbearing strawberry, but instead of producing two or three separate harvests in a growing season, they supposed to give fruit continuously through summer and into the fall.
However, take into consideration that when temperatures rise above 90F they will probably take a break from producing. When temperatures cool down, they’ll start producing again.
Purchasing Your Strawberries…
It is possible to purchase strawberry seeds, however, you will have to work rather hard to turn them into plans.
Seeds need to be started indoors in a room that is kept at temperatures of between 60F – 75F. Plant in seed starting soil and keep it moist until plants emerge, this can take around two – three weeks.
You might have to repot your strawberries a few times before hardening them and transferring to the garden.
The more common, and easy way is to purchase plants.
In early spring, you can find strawberry plants in just about any home/garden store or in the local plant nurseries. You will have the option of buying a live, established plant, probably planted in a container or a hanging basket or you can purchase bare roots in a bag or a box.
I ordered my plants from Johnny’s selected seeds. When you order online, you will most likely have a larger selection of plants and also some collections you can choose from.
I chose a collection of June – Bearing strawberries (early, mid, and late) so I can extend the season just a bit but that I don’t have to pick and care for the strawberries the whole season, God knows there are a million other things that need my attention.
When You Get Your Strawberries…
If you order online, you will probably get your bare roots in a box, wrapped with wet paper and in a plastic bag.
If your soil is not ready for planting, make sure you keep the box in the fridge (28-32F), until you are ready.
The ideal is to remove the roots from the bags and plant right away…
When to Plant Strawberries…
Early spring is the best time to plant strawberries. If you live in warmer climates, even the middle of winter can work (think Arizona or Nevada…).
Strawberries are very hardy and the occasional snow or frost will not kill them.
Spring rains will help keep the bed moist and aid in getting your plants off to a good start, but if it’s dry when you’re planting, you’ll have to make sure to water your plants well.
Remember that strawberries send runners. Do you want your plants to have room to multiply? If you do, make sure you plant them in a wide row or bed.
Strawberries like well-drained soil, a raised bed or a raised row will work the best. Don’t plant them in a location where water collects and stand for too long. Soil pH should be 6.5 – 6.8, just like for most vegetables.
Make sure to add a lot of compost to your soil and consider using straw mulch, the plants love it and your strawberries will be clean at harvest time.
Strawberries need around 8 hours of sun a day, so choose a location with full sun.
Lastly, don’t plant your new plants in a location that had anything from the Solanaceae family growing in it previously. This family includes tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, tobacco and such. Soil pathogens from these crops can affect strawberry plants and possibly cause soil-borne disease. Also, avoid a location that had strawberries growing in it previously.
We built a new shed around our well pump last fall so we built raised beds all around it.
We filled them with aged cow manure and topped it with aged horse manure in shavings. At the beginning, I was thinking to plant herbs here but then decided it will be the perfect location for strawberries.
How to Plant Strawberries…
Ok, let’s get to it!
Get your plants out of the box and open the bag.
Pull the precious bundle out. If you order a collection, the plants will be grouped in a rubber band and marked so you know which verity is which bundle.
Carefully, remove the band and pull the plants apart. The roots will be around 8 inches long.
Next, set your plants on the soil…
So you can see where each one is going to be planted before you set them in the soil. This way you can move things around before you plant if you want.
Make sure to space plants 12-18 inches apart. If you plant in rows, the rows have to be 3-4 feet apart.
Dig a deep hole…
And place your plant in it.
Set the plant into the soil with the roots straight down. Take care not to damage the roots in the process, and make sure the middle of the crown level with the top of the soil. Pack the soil well around the roots.
This is super important for your success:
- Deep hole, roots go straight down
- middle of crown levels with the top of the soil
- pack the soil around the roots
It is important that the crown stays free of soil through the season. If you weed with a hoe, be careful not to damage it.
Caring for Your Strawberry Plants…
The first year, or the Establishment Year, is very important.
If you are growing June-Bearing strawberries:
Remove all the flower buds from the plants in the first year. This will help the plant concentrate its energy on establishing a strong root system. I know it’s so hard to do this, you want those strawberries so bad, but the result will be a much stronger plant that will bear a larger crop the following year (or the First Bearing year).
As the plant becomes established, it will start producing runners with tiny plants at the tip. During the month of July, press 2 to 3 daughter plants per main plant into the soil and remove the rest. This will prevent your bed from being overcrowded.
If you grow June-Bearing strawberries you will also have to “renovate” the bed. A renovation is performed on those kinds of strawberries in order to keep the plants healthy and producing a lot of strawberries.
- After you harvested all your berries and the plant stops producing for the season, mow or clip the leaves to a height of 3 inches. Make sure not to damage the crown!
- Narrow your bed, each plant should have three to five inches around it. Remove weak plants.
- Add 2 inches of good compost if you grow organically or 1 – 1.5 pound of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet if you don’t grow organically.
- Keep your plants watered until they start to regrow leaves.
If you take good care of your bed, expect your strawberry plans to produce for 3-5 years.
If you grow Everbearing or Day-Neutral strawberries:
Remove flower buds only for the first six weeks after planting, then let the plants grow and produce.
It is recommended that you remove all the runners from those plants during the first year.
Do not renovate a bed of everbearing or day-neutral strawberries, but definitely add compost (or fertilizer) every year and water well.
If you take good care of your bed, you can expect your plants to produce for two seasons.
Mulch – all verities of strawberries love mulch. you can use black plastic, heavy row covers like AG-70, or natural options like wood chips, dry leaves, or hay/straw.
Strawberries love straw! There is a theory that they are called STRAWberries because they were always grown in straw mulch, another theory is that they were packaged in straw when brought to market many years ago.
Whatever it is, they like straw. It keeps the soil moist, the weeds away, and the berries clean.
If you choose to use straw, make sure you open the bale and let it sit in the elements for a few weeks. This way all the seeds that are in there will germinate and die before you use it. You don’t want a field of wheat in your strawberry bed! (Don’t ask me how I know this…)
Also, to protect the plants in cold winters, pile the straw on top of the crowns. Then, in early spring, remove the straw from the crowns. Don’t worry if the plants are not covered and there are a couple of frosts, they are hardy and won’t die.
Pests – slugs, spittlebugs, bud weevils, and tarnished plant bug are the main pests to bother your strawberries.
Moving the strawberry bed every four or five years (see bellow), mulching, renovation, and removing weak plants will help a lot.
You can also sprinkle diatomaceous earth around your bed, spray your plants with neem oil, or use essential oils like sandalwood, cedarwood, white fir, and peppermint.
If you would like to learn how you can use essential oils in the garden to help you keep pests away, attract pollinators and even improve your soil, I will be happy to send you a PDF of my Essential Oils in the Garden Class. This class includes simple recipes and lots of great information. Enter your email here to receive the class.
Propagating Strawberries – or in other words, how can you have strawberries forever without buying new plants every few years? Simply use the runners to create new plants. Instead of planting the runners close to the mother plant, guide them into a container (make sure to use good container soil and to keep the soil moist). Let them root in the container while they are still attached to the mother plant.
Then, once they root and set, cut the “umbilical cord.” Now you have a new plant in a container. Make sure to establish a new bed AWAY from the old bed to minimize the chance of disease.
Let’s harvest some berries, baby!
So if your husband and pack of kids happened to leave a few berries on the plants, what you should do is pick them gently when they are firm and fully red. Place your harvested strawberries in a shallow container, don’t pile them more than two layers on top of each other because they will squish and damage.
If your husband and kids are on vacation somewhere and you happen to have a lot to harvest, make sure you don’t leave your already harvested strawberries in the sun while you harvest the rest. Find a cool place for them and then continue harvesting.
Two important tips to remember…
Heavy rains will damage your strawberries! So stay tuned to the weather forecast and go out there to harvest your berries before heavy rains.
And washed strawberries spoil fast even in the fridge, so don’t wash your strawberries after harvesting them, wait until you are ready to eat them, then wash.
OK, that’s it friends! You have all the information you need to go out there and prepare your strawberry bed and order some strawberries. We covered a lot of information, but really, the bottom line is that those are very easy plants to grow.
They are super hardy and will produce for years. If you manage your runners correctly, you will only have to purchase strawberries once, but you’ll have delicious fruit for many years!
Remember strawberry plants make a great present too. Direct one of your runners into a pot and after it roots and growing on its own, separate it from the mother plant and gift it to a loved one and direct them here so they know how to care for their plant!
Let’s fill the world with delicious strawberries!